Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA
The Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area was designated in February 2017. The MPA is located in the Northern Shelf bioregion of the Pacific Region, southeast of Haida Gwaii, North and South of the entrance to the Douglas Channel. The four reefs in the MPA are thought to be over 9,000 years old. They were the first discovered living examples of glass sponge reefs, thought to be extinct worldwide, that existed during the Jurassic period. Live glass sponge reefs are unique to Pacific coastal waters.The MPA is composed of three individual areas known as the Northern Reef, the Central Reefs, and the Southern Reef. Together these three areas cover approximately 2,410 square kilometers.
The discovery of four major glass sponge reefs in 1987 by the Geological Survey of Canada sparked interest in these delicate and vulnerable marine animals. Thought to be extinct worldwide, the four reefs in Hecate Strait were determined to be over 9000 years old. They are considered to be the largest living example of glass sponge reefs that were abundant during the Jurassic period.
The reefs are very large, covering a total area of about 1000 km2. They are located at depths of 140 to 240 m below the surface, with the largest being 35 km long, 15 km wide and 25 m tall.
These sponges are fragile, with skeletons made of silica, or glass. Sponges are easily broken on impact, and can be smothered by increased sediment. The ocean conditions necessary to allow such large reefs to develop are rare, and the fragility of the reefs make them vulnerable to damage from human activity.
Each sponge may live for over 200 years, and the slow growth and vulnerability of the sponges suggests that recovery from damage may take tens to several hundreds of years. If the skeletons of dead sponges are buried or destroyed, new sponges cannot grow to add stability to the reef.
The sponge reefs provide refuge, habitat, and nursery grounds for aquatic species, including commercially important rockfish and other finfish and shellfish species.
Management & Conservation
The Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA conservation objective is to conserve the biological diversity, structural habitat, and ecosystem function of the glass sponge reefs.
The four reefs were closed to groundfish trawl fishing in 2002. In 2006 the initial closures were expanded in size and in gear restrictions to provide more protection for the reefs. However, the trawl fishery closures addressed only one potentially harmful activity. MPA designation provides comprehensive and long-term management and protection for the areas, and allows DFO to effectively manage the broad range of activities that could damage elements of this ecosystem.
An MPA management plan is being developed to guide the day to day management, governance, and monitoring of the MPA. It will also guide reporting on the area. The management plan will describe public education and outreach, enforcement and compliance initiatives, as well as regulatory and non-regulatory measures. The inclusion of regulatory and non-regulatory measures is essential to ensuring the continued support of other legislation, regulations and policies that contribute to the protection of this area.
As the lead federal authority for the MPA, DFO has the overall responsibility for ensuring compliance with, and enforcement of, the Regulations. This will be undertaken through the Department’s enforcement responsibilities under the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act, and other federal legislation regarding fisheries conservation, environmental protection, habitat protection and marine safety. Enforcement officers designated by the Minister according to Section 39 of the Oceans Act would enforce the management actions and Regulations for these areas. Enforcement of the Regulations would be dealt with under Section 37 of the Oceans Act, as would any offences. Other government regulators will also play a role in managing activities in and around the MPA and supporting the enforcement of the Regulations.
Established under the Oceans Act, the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Areas Regulations establish the boundaries of the Northern Reef, the Central Reefs, and the Southern Reef Marine Protected Areas, including the boundaries of the management zones within each protected area.
The core protection zones contain the sponge reefs and are designed to provide the highest level of protection to the reefs. The vertical adaptive management zones consist of the water column that extends above the core protection zones to the sea surface. The adaptive management zones consist of the seabed, subsoil and waters of the Marine Protected Areas that are not part of the core protection zones or the vertical adaptive management zones.
The regulations prohibit:
- carrying out any activity that disturbs, damages, destroys or removes any living marine organism or any part of its habitat or is likely to do so; or
- carrying out any scientific research or monitoring, or an educational activity, unless it is part of an activity plan that has been approved by the Minister.
There are exceptions to these prohibitions that identify activities that may be allowed to occur in the MPA in certain zones. The following activities are allowed in the MPA:
- Certain fishing activities in the adaptive management and vertical adaptive management zones. (Fishing activities will be managed in accordance with integrated fisheries management plans, annual variation orders, regulations and license conditions in a manner consistent with the conservation objective of the MPA. In order to protect the sponge reefs, additional fisheries management measures for bottom contact and midwater trawl fisheries are currently required throughout the MPA.);
- Navigation activities throughout the MPA; however, anchoring is not allowed in the core protection zones;
- The laying, maintenance or repair of cables in the adaptive management zones;
- Activities carried out for public safety, public health, national defense, national security, law enforcement or in response to an emergency; and
- Scientific research, monitoring and educational activities that have been approved by the Minister.
All fishing, anchoring, and cable installation, maintenance and repair are prohibited in the core protection zones.
In addition, any person may submit to the Minister an activity plan for the carrying out of scientific research or monitoring, or educational activities in the Marine Protected Areas. If you are interested in conducting one of these activities within the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound MPA, you must complete and submit an application form to DFO to obtain Ministerial approval. The Minister will have up to 60 days to make a decision to approve or deny the plan. An application form will be posted here shortly. For more information on the activity plan process, please consult the MPA regulations.
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